“Junior High” by Tegan and Sara Quin. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
SANTA CRUZ — When you’re a multiplatinum, award-winning indie pop duo comprised of identical twin sisters with more than two decades of recorded output and have been openly gay for most of your lives, you undoubtedly have stories to tell.
Tegan and Sara Quin, known under their musical moniker Tegan and Sara, have many stories, even dating back to before they were internationally known musicians. They have written about their upbringing, first in their 2019 memoir “High School” and now in their prequel graphic novel “Junior High,” which goes on sale May 30. Tegan and Sara will be at the Rio Theatre June 2 to promote their new book in an event co-sponsored by Bookshop Santa Cruz, The Diversity Center and Streetlight Records.
Tegan told the Sentinel it was an exciting project for her and Sara to go back in time and tell more of their origin story of not only their band but also coming out.
“I think our childhood was really unique, and I thought it would be really cool to spend some time writing about it,” she said.
Born and raised in Calgary, it was in their adolescence that Tegan and Sara discovered their love of performing music, which they parlayed into a successful career. Their 10 albums have collectively sold more than 1 million copies, they have won multiple Juno Awards and have dabbled in numerous genres. Among their mainstream successes are the 2004 alternative hit “Walking with a Ghost,” which was covered by the White Stripes for their EP of the same name a year later, the upbeat dance-pop anthem “Closer,” which was featured on TV shows “Glee” and “BoJack Horseman” and the ultimate earworm “Everything is Awesome,” the theme for 2014’s “The Lego Movie.”
As they were coming off their “Con X” tour in 2018, Tegan said she and her sister wanted a creative outlet but did not want to do another album just yet. They had been approached about doing a podcast and also had a book agent, so they looked to something in those realms.
“Everybody loved the ‘High School’ memoir pitch, and all of a sudden we were writing a book, which was terrifying and really exciting,” she said.
The book — in which Tegan and Sara trade chapters recounting their experiences as twins and budding musicians grappling with academic stress, their parents’ divorce and their own identity and sexuality — made the New York Times Bestseller list and won an Alex Award. The book deal also included a TV adaptation and a prequel focusing on the sisters’ middle school years.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, putting the TV show on hold — it would eventually premiere on Amazon Freevee in 2022 with twin TikTok stars Railey and Seazynn Gilliland portraying the sisters — so Tegan and Sara decided to start working on “Junior High.”
“Our publisher, FSG, their kids’ department, specifically their middle grade editors were interested in us adapting ‘High School’ for the 10 to 15-year-olds,” said Tegan.
Additionally, “Junior High” was pitched as a graphic novel, which Tegan said they were very excited about.
“Sara and I are massive comic book fans, massive graphic novel fans and have a lot of kids in our life who are reading graphic novels, so we were excited to jump into that space,” she said.
Sara said it was thrilling to tell their story in different ways.
“We think of ourselves as storytellers, so working in all these different mediums feels like an exciting challenge,” she said.
“Junior High” is based on Tegan and Sara’s preteen experiences but set in the present day, as they start a new school, go through puberty and experience their first crushes, all while going through the experiences of being identical twins.
Sara said that writing for a younger audience meant they had to be more purposeful about the stories they were telling without editing out significant parts or lessons of their preadolescence.
“We were really mindful of the age group and wanting to share enough to get the story across without crossing too many boundaries,” she said. “We’ve always been comfortable with our politics and our identity, but we want this book to sit comfortably in an age group where we’re not trying to push boundaries or upset anybody, especially in light of the way that books are now being banned or kept from students. We really see our story as being something that can inspire and hopefully teach a sort of kindness and open-mindedness in a world that is sometimes close-minded.”
Graphic novels require authors to write scripts, which Tegan said presented a new challenge at first. In the end, Sara said it was a lot easier to write than “High School.”
“We were able to share the script and tinker with each other’s writing,” she said. “With ‘Junior High,’ it was understood that it was fully collaborative and that we were able to change or veto anything in the book. It was like we both had to agree collaboratively, and that was actually pretty fun. It was fun to write Tegan’s character, and I’m sure she had fun controlling what I said in the book.”
To provide the illustrations, the duo worked with Tillie Walden, an Eisner Award-winning graphic novel artist whose works include “Spinning,” “On a Sunbeam” and “Are You Listening?”
Sara referred to Walden as “an absolute dream collaborator” who was very cognizant of Tegan and Sara’s story, partly because Walden is a twin herself.
“She has an uncanny ability to both understand our story and translate it visually, but she also added some of her own dialogue and some of her own perspective,” she said.
As Tegan and Sara have been on tour to promote their latest album, “Crybaby,” they will also be embarking on a short tour to promote “Junior High” with stops in New York, Boston, Calgary, Vancouver and Santa Cruz. Tegan described the process of doing two different tours as “chaos” but not too unlike when they put out “High School” the same week as their album “Hey, I’m Just Like You” or when “Crybaby” dropped last October and they went on the late night circuit to promote both the album and the “High School” TV series.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with us,” she joked. “Clearly, someone needs to intervene because we don’t know how to make good decisions, but at the same time I will say it’s such a joy to have so many cool, creative projects on the go, and they really feed each other. After two decades of making music, it’s kind of exciting to have music projects come out at the same time as these other things.”
At the Rio Theatre, Tegan and Sara will be talking about the book, show some archival material and interact with people interested in the book.
Sara said a major theme is what it means to be accepting of others who are different, from their family structures to how they identify.
“They’re big themes, but I think they’re things that even at a young age, we start to think about and develop feelings about, maybe even when we don’t have the language to talk about them,” she said.
Tegan said the book has appeal for all ages, and it is mostly adults who have approached the two about it.
“Our hope is that, in a way, it would inspire people or make them laugh,” she said. “It would feel like we’re commiserating about some of the more awkward parts about being an adolescent. Everything we make, we hope breeds connection.”
“Junior High” will be released May 30. Tegan and Sara will be in Santa Cruz at 7 p.m. June 2 at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave. Tickets are available at Bookshopsantacruz.com/tegan-and-sara.